AMA: Mike Abbink, Executive Creative Director at IBM

4 years ago from , Executive Creative Director, IBM Brand Experience & Design

Hello everyone! I’m Mike Abbink and I’m the Executive Creative Director at IBM. I have more than 23 years of experience in creative direction, strategic thinking and graphic design for brand experience, identity, packaging and interactive media. Before coming to IBM I’ve worked at design studios where I was able to work with great brands like Nike to develop their Niketown Honolulu Store; at Apple years ago designing packaging for OS X, G5 and the (now vintage ;-D) iSight Camera; at Wolff Olins leading the design of the Microsoft Office brand and Belkin logo to mostly recently the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), where I led the design for the Matisse Cut-Outs exhibition.

But today, I want to talk about branding through a different lens: The one of typeface design and the important role it plays in brand identity and how a company expresses itself and its ideas.

I've also done extensive work in typeface design (an entirely different design discipline in and of itself) from designing GE’s corporate typeface Inspira; retail typefaces like FF Kievit (used for Medium) and FF Milo Serif, which is used online for The Economist; to now IBM Plex, the new bespoke corporate typeface for IBM.

Over the past two years, we have developed a custom-designed typeface for IBM — IBM Plex. It has been carefully designed to meet our needs as a global technology company and reflect our brand spirit, beliefs and design principles. The new typeface will make our communications more distinctive, reduce the cost of expensive font licensing fees, and give IBM the freedom to apply it across all experiences.

You can learn more about the story behind IBM Plex: bitly.com/2ythg9U

If you have questions about IBM Plex, what it took to create it, what it's like to work at and design for IBM, building successful design teams, collaboration, or anything about what it takes to pursue a career in design, please share your questions and I will do my best to answer them.

I’ll be here live on Oct. 25th from 11:30 am - 12:30 PM ET. Hope to chat with you then!


  • Raffaello SanzioRaffaello Sanzio, 4 years ago

    After reading your intro, I thought you were joking. But then I saw your portfolio, twitter, and video about IBM Plex. Impressive resume, sir!

    Here's three questions for you:

    • How much importance do you give to formal education when hiring a new designer for your team?
    • What is the "one" skill you wish all designers had?
    • At what point should a company decide to develop its own typeface instead of keep licensing a font?

    Thank you!

    3 points
    • , 4 years ago

      Great questions Raffaello! I still think formal training is a must for our team. We are trying very hard to raise the quality of typography and overall design throughout IBM so the proper skills and knowledge really help propel that initiative. We are looking for people who are strong in typographic skills, talent and deep knowledge but also a strong belief system regarding typography. We of course lean heavily on modernism and grid driven type. This helps us be modern and more importantly organized.

      I wish all the designers today were strong and knowledgable in typography. I feel in the digital environment it’s become very weak. Poor use of grids, people use “dumb quotes” in headlines, flush left, centered, flush right all together, hyphens instead of en dash, etc., etc.

      I think any large international enterprise should spring for a bespoke typeface. They can afford it and ultimately it’s cheaper. But more importantly it can capture and help express the messages, brand ideas, principles and their POV on design.

      2 points
  • Calvin WilsonCalvin Wilson, 4 years ago

    Hey Mike, Thanks for taking the time!

    I have three questions for you:

    • Where do you start when deciding to design a typeface?

    • What books or resources would you recommend on grids and typography?

    • What are some of your favorite typefaces at the moment?


    0 points
  • Dana Smith, 4 years ago

    As the Executive Creative Director at such a large company - 1. How do you work to balance high level visions with all the small details of your team's execution? 2. I'm also assuming a lot of your team is in varying office and locations - what's something you've established (if anything) with your team that's helped bring them together and collaborate better even if they're working on completely different projects?


    0 points
    • , 4 years ago

      Very good question Dana and one we struggle with all the time. It’s why on our Brand Experience & Design team we have only senior level designers and up to help make sure whatever we design or present is already capturing the highest quality and standards with the design discipline. It’s a easier for use to control all aspects when it comes from our team but when it comes to the rest of the work being done by IBMers all over the world and our partners it get’s extremely difficult to control and provide guidance. We then focus more on the ideas, the content and overall design versus the details. But I do my best to get into the details as much as possible as design is also in the details!

      1 point
  • Account deleted 4 years ago

    Nate Vandervis have summed my feelings very good.

    As an ex-employee, I would have said 'oh, outsourced marketing material is out' but 'Cool' is much better.

    Cool story bro.

    0 points
  • Nate vNate v, 4 years ago


    0 points